A Noel Guthrie Acrylic on canvas

A Noel Guthrie Acrylic on canvas
The Cockabully Hunters --- from an original painting by Noel Guthrie

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Grandfathers Dream

Grandfathers Dream

Any visitor to the Mackenzie and of course those who turn of Main Highway 8 at Burkes Pass, on to the Rollesby Valley Road, will be surprised at the expanse of open fertile country, stretching down to the Mackenzie Pass and beyond, to where, as history records, was where one of New Zealand’s notorious sheep stealer was allegedly captured. 
However, that is a story for another time.

This little feature is about my grandfather’s dream. 
I had always had a vague idea where my grandfather had originally launched into his ultimate dream of developing a flock of crossbred sheep, suited to the smaller yet more manageable acreage of the Mackenzie Basin, but had never ventured there.
Original Airies Homestead
A copy of a watercolour sketch by Noel Guthrie
Mark, my son took me on a little jaunt up into the area one day, not so long ago, to where my grandparents in the 1800s, built their first homestead in the Mackenzie Country.  There are no formed tracks into the site now of course, but we turned off the Rollesby Valley Road, about half way between Burkes Pass and Mackenzie Pass, and literally headed for the hills, traversing eastward across rolling country between the road and the actual site. 
What a view it turned out to be, from the base of those eastern slopes of Rollesby Valley. Those old pioneers obviously had a few clues as to the most suitable and sheltered position where they could put down roots. 
From this sheltered spot, I could see across the valley, maybe ten kilometres or more and on to an uninterrupted view of those snow capped peaks along the Southern Alps. 
I took some photographs of what is remaining of that original homestead, a couple of stubby concrete foundations, of which I was able to establish the outline of part of my ancestry.  As one becomes a little older, family history seems to have more meaning.  We never had time for that when we were younger, too busy raising our own families I suppose.
Getting back to grandfathers dream though, he had obviously planted a great number of trees to act as shelter along the steep faces behind the house and to the south.  Now of course, having succumbed to the saw miller, those trees are nothing more than rotting pine stumps, which disappear into the middle distance beneath a carpet of shimmering golden high country pasture.
It is over 130 years since my grandfather came to the Mackenzie.  Like a great number of those early settlers into this portion of New Zealand, my grandfather, Robert Guthrie, was a true blue Scot.  He had entered University in Scotland to take up a degree in law.  However, as with that profession, his days were spent indoors and to the detriment of his health.  In an effort to improve his circumstances, he travelled to Canada, but was soon to return.  At that point, he must have decided to travel to New Zealand aboard the sailing vessel ‘Corlic’ in 1876 and put down roots in the Mackenzie. 
One thing in Robert’s favour was that he possessed a strong love of nature and enjoyed the rugged surroundings of the Mackenzie landscape; it so reminded him of his homeland.
So, for almost the next 20 years, his law degree and university education assisted him as he managed a number of high country sheep runs throughout the Mackenzie.
At first he spent four years managing the Wolds Run, which lay between Irishman Creek and Simons Pass, on the western side of the Tekapo River.
For the three years following, he took up management of the Blainslie Run in the Albury district.  It was during this term at Blainslie, that Robert married Catherine.
In 1883, at the request of the Rutherford brothers, John, Robert and Edmund, my grandfather was appointed as manager of the Mistake Station, (now known as Godley Peaks), at the head of Lake Tekapo, where Robert and Catherine spent the next ten years of their life.
It was during their time at the Mistake Station, grandfather had this dream.  He saw the greater possibilities for growth in the Mackenzie.  With the prospect of closer settlement of this regions more accessible country, he became one of the first high countrymen to put his dream into practice. 
In 1893, part of the greater ‘Three Springs Run’, which stretched from the western side of Fairlie to Burkes Pass, the Government subdivided part of this for closer settlement.  Robert and Catherine tendered their interest and were the successful applicants for a block between Burkes Pass and Kimbell, a block they subsequently named Airies.  This name probably originating from Roberts home province, ‘Ayrshire’, back in Scotland.
One year later in 1894, two more blocks came up, namely Single Hill and Knobbies were subdivided off the neighbouring Rollesby Run.  Donald McLeod took both these lots. However, he soon relinquished the Knobbies piece to Robert and Catherine, who incorporated it into the Airies Run and stocked it with around 4000 head of crossbred sheep.  It appears it was the Knobbies block, where Robert and Catherine decided to build.
It was that strong love of nature and of the environment, which Robert became recognized as quite an authority in all branches of the pastoral association, and became a member of the Agricultural and Pastoral Society.
Of course, being a Scot, there was only one recognized form of music, the bagpipes, so I suppose it was natural enough for him to become one of the founding members of the Mackenzie Caledonian Society.
Robert seemed to like becoming involved in community affairs and soon concerned himself with the Burkes Pass School Committee.  Well, of course with 14 kids, he was going to be involved for some time. 
For a period of time, Robert was a member of the Mackenzie County Council, officially known as the Mackenzie Roads Board, at the time when the Offices, was located at Burkes Pass.
Robert and Catherine moved off Airies, selling out to A. G. Alder, and became city dwellers in Timaru shortly before 1920.  However his retirement was short-lived and he passed away within a short time.
Airies passed on to P. P. Hudson during the 1940s, before H.A.Munro took control in 1950, the family retaining title even to this day.
It was during the Munros’ tenancy, that grandfathers first homestead succumbed to the ravages of a violent nor-west gale.  Obviously it had not been occupied for some time, but never the less, it is sad to see part of a family heritage disappear in just a little puff of wind, so to speak.

Thank you for reading my blog, hope you enjoyed it.
Have a nice day.
Noel G

Sunday, 15 April 2012

An Audience with Mr Bean.

There was that old song I heard some time ago, “When I’m sixty five,” or something very similar.  It had a real catchy tune to it, but I’m damned if I can remember that either. Was it the Beatles?
Anyway, that’s not what I’m writing about.  You see, I am just turning 75 and I had to renew my licence (drivers licence) the other day.

Well, off I trot off and obtain the necessary papers, a doctors certificate to herby certify I am sane enough to drive a car, (I couldn’t be worse than a lot of those other mad bastards out there.)  Then I had to present a bill of some kind that tells the authorities who I am supposed to be. I chose the telephone account. As well as a few other bits and pieces.
Armed with all this paraphernalia, I front up to the agencies front desk.  An officious young thing eyes me up and down. 
 “Yes, what can I do for”, she said squinting at me.  I could see the look in her eyes, ‘Oh not another one’!!
I almost said.  “I’m booked in for a vasectomy”, but I changed my mind.  She looked the type to carry it out too, and with just the barest of essentials.
She grabbed the sheaf of papers out of my hand and began reading.  Then she looked at me again, from under her eyebrows, as if to verify the doctors comments were accurate.  She seemed satisfied for she pointed to a little box at the top of the page, “you did not fill that in”. 
“What’s that for”? I say. 
 “It tells me that you have handed me your old licence!! 
God give me strength.  She already had the bloody thing in her hand.  It was at about that point I decided not to ask her out on a date.
Then with nimble fingers she spun the forms around in front of me, “you need to fill this section in”, and she rattled off.  I was busy watching her finger wiz across the page directing me to the correct section, and trying to listen to what she was saying. It was like listening to a machine gun rattling away.  Then out of breath she looked at me and said,  “Now I’m going to get a nice cup of tea before I miss out, and you can fill that in”.  “Oh that’s lovely, mine’s black with one sugar”. She spun around with the grace and crouch of a professional wrestler, “you are not getting one!!” She barked.
My hand shaking uncontrollably I tried to remember what she said about the form.  Thinking I had it right I started filling everything in from my telephone account until my mentor came back. 
 “What!” she glared at me.  That squint was back again.  “What did you do that for”? 
 “I did what you told me”. 
 “I told you to fill in the licence details”, and then she heaved a sigh, as I began to put in the correct details.  “Have you not got all my details in the computer”?   
“Yes”, she replied.  
“So why do I have to fill them in again”? 
 For an answer she folded a receipt, handing it to me, telling me to go to the computer down there and pointed in the general direction.  I made my way down a couple of steps, I had had gout for a couple of days and my foot was blinkin sore.  After staggering down to where she pointed, I sat in front of the computer for my photo.
Then I hear that voice again. “ Mr Guthrie”, then the tapping of her finger on the counter top.   “Over here”!  Hobbling up the steps again.  “Sit”, she commanded. “Look into the camera”.

She smiled then. “All done”.  I bet she was glad to get rid of me. I think I reminded her too much of Mr Bean.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

My Old School

Oh yes, I have very fond memories of this little school at Albury. Actually, I was born in this little hamlet, nestled in the lee of the Brothers Range and on the fringes of the Mackenzie Country, just where the TeNgawai and Opawa rivers meet.
Well before my time however, and sometime around 1880, a little private school, was conducted by Mr Radford.  I have reason to believe his name was William Oldfield Radford.  Now, this little private school, so I am led to believe, was conducted in a spare room at the back of the original Albury Store, where it appears it may well have been located near the early Albury  Hotel, then owned by a chap by the name of McLeod.
This settlement was growing rapidly, what with the railway extension pushing through to Fairlie Creek and beyond.  However, the lack of education facilities was of concern to those town fathers. 
A public meeting was called, most probably in the hotel, on August 18th 1881.
Chaired by John Rutherford, the most prominent figure in the district, this led to the formation of the inaugural school committee and the subsequent establishment of the townships first public school.
Almost immediately, the first sod was turned on land eventually bounded by Duke St, Mt Nessing Rd, Station St, and Queen St. Only then, and under the direction of the Education Board, work began on construction.  By July 1882, work was completed and the one-roomed school was handed over to the School Committee.
Following the establishment of a bank account with the B N Z Bank, the committee advertised for a teacher in the Lyttelton Times, the Otago Daily Times and the Timaru Herald.  John Maddison was selected from several applications and appointed as sole teacher for the salary of 100 pounds.  John began teaching in the new school on September of 1882.
By 1885, the roll had risen to 25 students, although this was to eventually rise much later to close on 150 students.
It was not until the turn of the century that a second classroom was to be added to the first, this time it was with the assistance of a grant by the Education Board.

Being a member of the Albury School Committee in those days appeared to be a rather hazardous occupation, as one Mr E. Richardson found out.
As chairman of the School Committee and in 1893, he called an extra special meeting of the committee to debate an urgent issue: however he failed to attend.  Although he apologized profusely at a later meeting, the meeting was in no mood for compromise, they voted him out of office.

Rural children were definitely at a disadvantage in those early years, particularly if they were to go beyond primary school.  It is also interesting to note that, up until the early 1900s, and because of financial constraints, secondary schooling was not available to Albury students, and most likely not available to a number of other districts.  Unless of course a student won a scholarship, to either attend Timaru Girls or Boys High School respectively.
Around 1904, some bright individual claimed to have struck gold in the hills around Mt Nessing, several miles west of the township.  Such was the hullabaloo that the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Richard Seddon, or ‘King Dick’ as he was affectionately known, made a visit to the Albury School arriving by train, and immediately declaring a school holiday. 
No doubt Seddon had visions of all the tax the Government was going to collect from this gold strike. During his visit to Albury, he took a drive in a horse and trap to Mt Nessing, where he was going to visit this new goldmine.  Incidentally, this project was never going to amount to anything, it turned out to be ‘fools gold’, nothing more than a good strike of mineral silicate, worth absolutely nothing at that time, now however, it could have been a much different story.
Never mind, the kids all made a great picnic out of a disappointing day for the adults.   Prime Minister and all made the return journey to Albury aboard a large trailer drawn by a traction engine, although the kids loved it, I’m not sure it was the same for all those red faces from that stuff up on the most grandest of scales.  The legacy of that little venture, Albury has never seen a Prime Minister since that fateful day.

Oh how I remember that little school, it seems a million years ago.  The single drinking fountain fed from the steel tank behind the school, which froze solid in the winter. Prior to my day it was fed from the windmill in the school grounds, and before that, it was carted via horse and dray from the Opawa stream.
Of course the arrival of electricity during the 1920s, that was a novel occasion so they say.  At the time, students, with the aid of Mr Adams radio, were allowed to follow the course of Kingsford Smiths record-breaking flight across the Tasman.
With the introduction of bottled milk into schools, senior students carried several crates of milk in a special cart from the railway station every morning.  By the time we got to have a compulsory drink, there was an inch of thick sour cream on the top. Yuk.

So many delightful memories from my first week, as a gangly five year old, with my new leather school bag over my shoulder, packed with a ploughman’s lunch and wearing my shiny new boots.
Years later of course I recall the chalk that whistled past one’s ear if not paying attention to the teacher, or the edge of the ruler across the knuckles for talking. 
The towering conifer beside the classroom window, where we played each day, and the vegetable garden we tended each week, most likely to escape class.  The dusty trek to the TeNgawai River, during the height of summer, where we went for a swim.
Those other pranks that boy’s get up to, seeing who could pee through the latticework above the urinal.  Sammy Barrett and Donald Collins were the only two with high enough pressure that I knew of.
I must not forget the auditions to the school concert, and of the one year that the voice of a songbird was required for a special part.  Each boy must sing a song, any song, without being unaccompanied by music.  Now, I had a voice like a rusty nail, without the benefit of a single musical beat in my entire body, I knew class were in for a treat.  My plea’s to be excused fell on deaf ears; well they thought they were deaf until they heard me in action.  Denis O’Sullivan could sing like a lark, it sounded pretty good to me, so I thought I would have a go at that song, without even knowing the words.  When my turn came, George Robertson, the Headmaster stood with his arms folded and a smile on his face, I soon wiped that off.  I had just pumped up my lungs and let forth half a dozen notes when dear old George clapped his hands over his ears in horror and roared, “for goodness sake, go and sit down boy!”

Ahh yes, those were the days?  But life must go on, during the 1970s, my old classroom was demolished to make way for the new.  To me, that new classroom is not a patch on the old, what with its drafty windows, the oiled floors and the high smoke stained ceilings.  Not forgetting the water that froze each winter, that’s what is known, as character isn’t it.
Now just to finish.  “It sometimes hurts to remember the days that have gone beyond recall, when times and people have passed forever, drifting on the tides of time.  But let us be glad, and enjoy the glow of those many special memories.”

Have a nice day.

Noel G

Friday, 6 April 2012

Back from the wilderness

Hello again.  Yes I know, I have been a bit slack for the last few months and not posted any blogs to my site.  I have just written on behalf of the Mackenzie Highland Pipe Band, the history of the band from its inception in 1912, up until this year 2012, so it has taken up a lot of my time.  Included in this publication is a profile of every member who played in the band between these dates.  That equates to around 220 known members.  
Three hundred and thirty pages long and 270mm x 190mm in size, and more than 200 photographs, this is not your usual documentation of historic events. Throughout this publication, the text is sprinkled with a verve that is laced with copious amounts of humour, reminiscent of those country bands of old.
In writing this, I have felt quite privileged to be part of a great team, who worked for many months to put this publication together.
For those readers of my blog outside of  the area and New Zealand, they may not even be aware of the existence of the Mackenzie Highland Pipe Band.  In actual fact, the Band is stationed in Fairlie, which is the gateway to the Mackenzie. 
Let me give you a geography lesson on the location of Fairlie, a sleepy little hollow on the edge of a vast but picturesque region, The Mackenzie Country, World renown for its lakes and its snow-covered mountains.
This book, A Century in the Making, is being launched at the Mackenzie A&P Show on Easter Monday, 9th of April 2012.  While copies may not be available though the retailer, they will however, be available to the general public by contacting the Band Secretary, Graham Parcell.  ggparcell@xtra.co.nz
To those past members who seek one of these books, I am sure you will get a kick out of a jolly good read.
My heart felt thanks to those members who spent a lot of time gathering information over several months, when you see them again, give them a pat on the back.
They are Heather Fifield, John Campbell, Eric Jones, Graham Parcell, and the grandfather, Colin McKinnon.

Kind regards

Noel Guthrie.